Two families and a community are reeling after strange coincidences tragically linked three fatal car crashes.
"This is not happening, we just lost AJ - how can this be happening?" said Mandie Ihaka.
Her nephew, 16-year-old Cheyenne Ihaka, died on Wednesday night in a head-on collision with a car driven by Sheree Painter, of Pahiatua, leaving her with serious injuries.
Cheyenne's father, AJ Ihaka, died less than two months ago after hitting a power-pole after the Eketahuna Rugby Club's 125th anniversary celebrations.
Sheree Painter is the mother of Jonathan Painter, who will face trial in October after allegedly driving his ute into a train at a level crossing near Carterton last year, killing his passenger and girlfriend Grace Diedrichs, 15.
Painter's husband, Wayne Roache, coaches the Eketahuna Rugby Club senior team, which is playing in today's Wairarapa rugby final in Masterton.
Both Cheyenne and AJ played for the club.
Jonathan Painter plays for its colts team and may take the field in its game today depending on his mother's condition, club president Dennis Dougherty said.
"She is uppermost in their minds and the rugby is still only a game."
Jonathan Painter's mother was improving and Roache hoped to attend the final if she was well enough, Dougherty said.
The whole club and community were feeling the effects of the crash, he said.
The club sympathised with the Ihaka family's losses, and with the difficulties that Painter's family had also faced over both this week's and last year's accidents.
Meanwhile, Cheyenne's family spoke of an "awesome cousin, nephew, son and brother" who loved rugby, hunting, eeling and helping his mum.
"He'll leave a big hole, my heart's just . . . I'll never be the same," his mother, Jaunita Snowdon, said.
Cheyenne had been going to see her the night he died, driving a car that wasn't his, she said.
However, Snowdon did not want to comment on what caused the crash. Cheyenne was still mourning his father, with whom he was very close, but was usually cheerful.
"He had his cheeky moments, just like his dad - he was his dad's boy."
Cheyenne's many cousins were hurting, she said. "It's hit them - they've gone and lost a real good mate, and they'll probably learn from all this."
A J Ihaka's mother, Liz Corlett, said the death of her oldest grandson, who had lived with her for the last few years of his life, was shattering. "We're just in shock."
A spokesman for Palmerston North Hospital said Sheree Painter was in a stable condition in the hospital's intensive care unit yesterday afternoon.
Cheyenne's 17-year-old male passenger was discharged from hospital yesterday morning.
Sergeant Glenn Ryan, of Pahiatua, said the crash had affected everybody in the town and Eketahuna, but especially the families involved.
Alcohol was a contributing factor in both A J Ihaka and Cheyenne's crashes, he said.
"If you drink and drive, chances are you're going to lose your life . . . unfortunately it's come to bite these guys [the Ihakas] twice."
The police serious crash unit is investigating.
- The Dominion Post